Chili pepper (also known as, or spelled, chilli pepper, chilli, chili, and chile) is the fruit of the plants from the genus Capsicum, members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae. Botany considers the plant a berry bush. Though chilis may be thought of as a vegetable, their culinary use is generally as a spice. It is the fruit that is usually harvested.
Chili peppers and their cultivars originate in the Americas; they are now grown around the world because they are widely used as spices or vegetables in cuisine, and as medicine.
The chili has a long association with and is extensively used in Mexican and certain South American cuisines, and later adapted into the emerging Tex-Mex cuisine. Although unknown in Africa and Asia until its introduction from the New World by the Europeans, the chili pepper has since become an essential pillar of the cuisines of Eritrea,Ethiopia, Nepal, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Southwest China (including Sichuan cuisine), Sri Lanka, Thailand, West Africa and many other cooking traditions.
The fruit is eaten raw or cooked for its fiery hot flavour, concentrated along the top of the pod. The stem end of the pod has most of the glands that produce the capsaicin. The white flesh surrounding the seeds contains the highest concentration of capsaicin. Removing the inner membranes is thus effective at reducing the heat of a pod.
Chili is sold worldwide fresh, dried and powdered. In the United States, it is often made from the Mexican chile ancho variety, but with small amounts of cayenne added for heat. In the Southwest United States, dried ground chili peppers, cumin, garlic and oregano is often known as chili powder. Chipotles are dry, smoked red (ripe) jalapeños.
Chili peppers are used around the world to make a countless variety of sauces, known as hot sauce, chili sauce, or pepper sauce. In Turkey, chilis are known as Kırmızı Biber (Red Pepper) or Acı Biber (Hot Pepper), and are used in the form of either red pepper paste (Biber Salçasi) which can be hot or mild. Harissa is a hot pepper sauce made of chili, garlic and flavoured with spices, originating in Tunisia and widely used in its cuisine, both as a condiment and as seasoning. Harissa is also found in other North African cuisines, though it is often treated as a table condiment to be served on the side.
Indian cooking has multiple uses for chilis, from snacks like bhaji where the chilis are dipped in batter and fried, to vindaloo. Chilis are dried, roasted and salted as a side dish for rice varieties such as daddojanam or Thayir sadam (curd rice) or Daal Rice (rice with lentils). The soaked and dried chillies are a seasoning ingredient in recipes such as kootu. It is called “mirapa” (మిరప)in telugu.
Sambal is a versatile relish made from chili peppers as well as other ingredients such as garlic, onion, shallots, salt, vinegar and sugar, which is popular in Indonesia and Malaysia, and also in Sri Lanka (called “sambol”) and South Africa, where they were introduced by Malay migrant workers who arrived in the 19th century. It can be used as a dipping sauce, as an ingredient in recipes and even as a dressing for cold dishes (or “salads”).
Chili pepper plant leaves, mildly bitter but not nearly as hot as the fruits that come from the same plant, are cooked as greens in Filipino cuisine, where they are called dahon ng sili (literally “chili leaves”). They are used in the chicken soup, tinola. In Korean cuisine, the leaves may be used in kimchi. (풋고추잎 깍두기). In Japanese cuisine, the leaves are cooked as greens, and also cooked in tsukudani style for preservation.
In Italian cuisine crushed red pepper flakes are a common ingredient on pizza among other things. It is also commonly used in Turkey as a garnish, called Biber Dövme.
Some chili peppers are not grown for consumption, they are instead grown for decorative qualities: “ornamental peppers”. Some are too hot for typical cooking, or are not palatable. Regardless, ornamental peppers have unusual shapes or colours. Examples include Thai Ornamental, Black Pearl, Marble, and Numex Twilight. The Medusa pepper is a green plant that produces fruit starting purple, then ripening to yellow, orange, and red. Black Pearl has black leaves and round black fruit that ripen to a bright red.
In India, chili is used with lime to ward off evil spirits and is seen in vehicles and in homes for that purpose. It is used to check the evil eye and remove its effects in Hinduism as people will also be asked to spit into a handful of chilies kept in that plate, which are thrown into fire. If the chilis make a noise – as they should – then there is no case of “drishti” (evil eye); if on the other hand they do not, then the spell of the evil eye is removed in the fire.
Capsaicin is a safe and effective analgesic agent in the management of arthritis pain, herpes zoster-related pain, diabetic neuropathy, postmastectomy pain, and headaches
Possible health benefits
All hot chili peppers contain phytochemicals known collectively as capsaicinoids.
Capsaicin was shown, in laboratory settings, to cause cancer cell death in rats.
Capsaicin in chilies has been found to inhibit chemically induced carcinogenesis and mutagenesis in various animal models and cell culture systems.
Recent research in mice shows that chili (capsaicin in particular) may offer some hope of weight loss for people suffering from obesity.
Researchers used capsaicin from chillies to kill nerve cells in the pancreases of mice with Type 1 diabetes, thus allowing the insulin producing cells to start producing insulin again.
Research in humans found that “after adding chili to the diet, the LDL, or bad cholesterol, actually resisted oxidation for a longer period of time, (delaying) the development of a major risk for cardiovascular disease”.
Researchers found that the amount of insulin required to lower blood sugar after a meal is reduced if the meal contains chili pepper.
Chilli peppers are being probed as a treatment for alleviating chronic pain.
Spices, including chilli, are theorized to control the microbial contamination levels of food in countries with minimal or no refrigeration.
Hot peppers are claimed to provide symptomatic relief from rhinitis, but a review study found no effect.
Several studies found that capsaicin could have an anti-ulcer protective effect on stomachs infected with H. pylori by affecting the chemicals the stomach secretes in response to infection.
By combining an anesthetic with capsaicin, researchers can block pain in rat paws without causing temporary paralysis. This anesthetic may one day allow patients to be conscious during surgery and may also lead to the development of more effective chronic pain treatments.
Possible health risks and precautions
A high consumption of chili is associated with stomach cancer.
Chili powders may sometimes be adulterated with Sudan I, II, III, IV, para-Red, and other illegal carcinogenic dyes.
Aflatoxins and N-nitroso compounds, which are carcinogenic, are frequently found in chili powder.
Chronic ingestion of chili products may induce gastroesophageal reflux
Chili may increase the number of daily bowel movements and lower pain thresholds for people with irritable bowel syndrome.
Chilis should never be swallowed whole; there are cases where unchewed chilis have caused bowel obstruction and perforation.
Consumption of red chilis after anal fissure surgery should be forbidden to avoid postoperative symptoms.